In the last decade of the 1400s, two Italian explorers set off to chart a new route to the Orient, seeking their fortunes in the trade of spices from the East. Financed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus was the first to set sail, departing from Palos de la Frontera in 1492 with three ships and the promise of great wealth and power over land and sea if the voyage was successful.
In early October, after spotting land for the first time in five weeks, Columbus made landfall in the Bahamas. While on the island, which he named San Salvador, Columbus caught a glimpse of one of the great treasures of the New World - gold. No route to the East was found, however, Columbus returned three times to explore the islands and coastlines of Central and South America.
A fellow Genoese navigator, John Cabot, was the second explorer to set sail across the unknown. Departing from Bristol, England with a royal patent from King Henry VII, Cabot's first voyage to discover a route to the East was a failure and he was forced to return after battling bad weather and running low on supplies.
Sailing on the Mathew on his second voyage, however, Cabot went ashore on June 24, 1497 on the coast of North America. The location of Cabot's landfall is disputed - it could have been Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia or the United States - and it lasted only a brief moment. After standing on land in the New World one time, the rest of Cabot's exploration was made from aboard the ship as his crew traveled along the coast. Cabot made a third journey to North America but little is known of the trip.
And so, for more than four centuries, credit was given to a pair of Genoese explorers for the discovery of the Americas despite Norse sagas, which claimed the Vikings were the first Europeans to reach the New World some 500 years before Columbus.
In 1960, in a small fishing village on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, resident George Decker led Helge Ingstad to what the locals believed to be an 'old Indian camp'. Helge, an explorer, and his wife Anne Stine, an archaeologist, were searching for Vinland, a place mentioned in Norse sagas as the settlement established by Leif Erikson around the year 1001.
Seven archeological excavations, led by Anne Stine Ingstad, unearthed the remains of eight buildings at L'Anse aux Meadows, including dwellings, workshops and a smithy. It is believed that the intriguing and fierce Vikings lived and worked in sod buildings for a short period of time.
Presently, L'Anse aux Meadows is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only conclusively proven Norse settlement in North America and the place where the first noted presence of Europeans is found in the New World.
Although the original excavations were reburied to protect the site, you can tour a recreated version of the Norse settlement and view the ruins of the original camp. Visit the Interpretation Centre to learn more about Leif Erikson and the Vikings who lived at L'Anse aux Meadows more than 1000 years ago.
There is a beautiful coastal hiking trail at L'Anse aux Meadows. Although it drizzled during the tour of the settlement, our guide promised that the rain would soon stop. He was right. As we headed out on the hike, the clouds scattered and the sun came out. The wind was brisk. A stunningly gorgeous afternoon emerged. In the beginning, the trail followed the rugged coastline, over rocks and hills, up stairs and then down again. Eventually it turned inland and boardwalks led over bogs and marshes, where we enjoyed fresh cloudberries and a close encounter with an enormous moose.